Does the Tasmanian Tiger Still Exist? It’s a Long Shot

Researchers say the Tasmanian tiger — also called the thylacine — probably went extinct much later than previously thought.

The general scientific consensus is that the last of the striking animals died in a zoo in 1936. But the authors of a paper published in the journal Science of the Total Environment contend that Tasmanian tigers probably died out closer to 1980, or maybe even later.

The scientists “compiled an exhaustive record of possible sightings,” that occurred after 1936, then used a process called “uncertainty modeling” to map the species’ likely extinction pattern. Later sightings were given lower statistical weight in the model, The Guardian reported.

The result “suggests that extinction might have been as recent as the late 1980s to early 2000s, with a small chance of persistence in the remote southwestern wilderness areas [of Tasmania],” the paper’s authors write in the abstract.

A map of Tasmanian Tiger sightings in Tasmania as compiled by the paper's authors. Graphic also includes a photograph of a Tasmanian tiger.

A map of Tasmanian tiger sightings in Tasmania as compiled by the paper’s authors. Graphic: Brook et al.


Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence

The assertion is an exciting one. Sightings of the probably extinct animal continue in Tasmania to this day. Such sightings are always complicated by a lack of clear video or photographic evidence and the fact that the people doing the sighting are rarely experts in extinct animals.

But rarely doesn’t mean never.

“There are still occasional credible sightings in the 1980s,” lead author Barry Brook told The Guardian, referencing experienced rangers and naturalists who claim to have seen the animals.

The increasing unlikelihood of spotting a genuine Tasmanian tiger doesn’t stop the reports from rolling in. And the phenomenon isn’t limited to thylacines, either. The ivory-billed woodpecker is another thought-to-be-extinct animal that occasionally gets “sighted” by North American hunters, hikers, and anglers.

Brook and his fellow authors stress that, while their model shows there is a chance there might still be Tasmanian tigers in the world, that chance is extremely small, less than one percent.

But those of us with an optimistic bent, or who want an excuse to poke around in Tasmania, will hold on to that less than one percent chance.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
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